Dive into confections with flaky exteriors and rich creamy interiors, cool ices in dozens of flavors or crispy cookies aromatic with almonds or pine nuts or all the colors of the rainbow, all as beautiful to the eye as the tastebuds. Luckily a trip to Italy or a New York City outer borough isn’t needed to experience these sensory delights. Poughkeepsie’s own Little Italy has two venerable institutions churning out goodies galore, treating first- and second-generation Italians and all the rest of us to these delicacies, perfect for pleasing party guests or lingering over with a friend and a cup of strong coffee.
Sink your teeth into a custard-filled éclair covered with chocolate or crunchy quaresemali studded with hazelnuts and almonds, made authentically the old-fashioned way, or sugar-dusted cannoli about which “you could write a poem,” as my mother-in-law used to say.
The Italian pastry tradition goes back to the Middle Ages in Venice, when explorers introduced the spices and sweeteners that they’d found in other lands. More recently, Italian immigrants here recreated the fresh mozzarella, the sausages, the ravioli that they remembered, and opened up shop to bring the tastes of home to others. Now in Little Italies all over, a step into such a shop is a trip into the sights, smells and sensations of the past.
Thirty-nine years ago a pastry chef from Naples opened such a shop, La Deliziosa on Mount Carmel Place in downtown Poughkeepsie. Ten years later, a high school freshman named Frank Cordaro started washing dishes at La Deliziosa, “just for something to do,” he says. Eventually Cordaro took over the business for his own, bringing in his Mom to wait on customers, his Dad to do deliveries, and he became, in spite of himself, a baker. “Then I was baker; now they call me a chef,” he says, grinning.
“It wasn’t anything I particularly wanted to do,” he adds. “I just didn’t want to go to college.” Friends who joined the corporate world tell him, “You were so smart to do what you did.”
At La Deliziosa around the holidays, lines often snake out the door for the popular cannoli, sfogliatelle, biscotti, rum baba and biscotti. “People love it because it’s stable,” Cordaro says. “When they come in and look around, they say, ‘I feel like I’m a child again.’”
At La Deliziosa, the eyes are drawn up to the original tin ceilings, with large pictures near the top of the walls: of Marilyn, Elvis and Jesus, of old scenes of Italy that have been there forever, plus panoramic photos (by “Kraig with a K,” Cordaro’s driveway-coater) of the Walkway. The whimsy continues with shelves displaying tee-shirts and recordable talking cupcakes.